I generally despise the term "must-win" game.
Shouldn't they all be must-wins? I mean, by its very definition, a must-win game implies that some games really don't matter. I suppose that's the case for teams that are out of playoff contention, but in reality all games should be considered must wins as long as a team is mathematically alive for the postseason. After that, some would argue, games can become "must lose" in order to ensure a higher draft pick.
Now that we've got that somewhat cleared up… Sunday's game in Chicago feels like it should be considered of the must-win ilk for the Minnesota Vikings. This assumes, of course, that you are in the camp that believes it is in the Vikings' best interest to continue winning games in pursuit of a postseason berth.
A cogent argument could be made that the Vikings don't have the horses to go very far – or even advance past the first round – if they do somehow make the playoffs, and therefore losing games down the stretch and missing the postseason wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That argument presupposes the Vikings are in full-scale rebuilding mode and could benefit more by higher draft picks than a few extra wins during a rebuilding campaign.
Of course, that line of thinking won't get you very far within the halls at Winter Park. For as much as they are refurbishing following last season's 3-13 disaster, the Vikings roster is dotted with high-profile veterans that want to win now. For players like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams time is of the essence. A football player only has so many years to pursue a ring.
Thus, the Vikings really, really need to beat the Bears on Sunday.
The Vikings remaining schedule – as everyone knows – is pretty dicey, and they need to win four of the final six to have a reasonable shot of making it to the playoffs. Ten wins probably gets them in. Nine probably won't cut it. Next week's game against the Packers in Green Bay does not look very winnable for the Purple. The Packers have won the last four games in the series and have won five of the last six games between these two teams at Lambeau Field. And the Week 16 game in Houston appears even less winnable for the Vikings against a 10-1 Texans squad that appears to be one of the four best teams in the league.
In other words, that leaves no room for error in the other four games for Minnesota – two against the Bears, a Week 15 game in St. Louis, and the regular-season finale at home against the Packers.
You want to see the Vikings in the playoffs this season? Then they need to win Sunday in Chicago. Period.
Fortunately for the Vikes, they have a lot of factors aligning perfectly to give them a shot at upsetting the favored Bears – aside from Percy Harvin's tri-lateral ankle sprain that has yet to fully heal.
Not that the Vikings needed a blueprint for beating Chicago, given their familiarity with their division rival, but Monday's lopsided loss by the Bears to the 49ers provided a very detailed roadmap. Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense needs to somehow avoid turning the ball over to the hyper-opportunistic Bears defense and Allen and company need to pin their ears back and pressure the heck out of the quarterback.
Said quarterback will likely be Jay Cutler, who appears on course to return from his concussion, but whether it's Cutler or Jason Campbell, the Vikings have a golden opportunity to really get after him. The Bears offensive line is in complete shambles after being exposed for six sacks by the 49ers. Chilo Rachal was demoted from his starting left guard position following the game and promptly left the team. Meanwhile, starting right tackle Gabe Carimi was also benched after the Niners game. Left tackle J'Marcus Webb hasn't been much better, but remains in the starting lineup to take on Allen – who logged 3.5 sacks against him when these teams met last year in Week 17.
On paper at least, Allen and Brian Robison should have a field day. On paper, Adrian Peterson should be able to continue his dominance because, well, no one has stopped him yet this season. The Bears run defense is stout, but Peterson is playing the best football of his Hall of Fame career right now. On paper, the well-rested Vikings, who don't have many injury concerns beyond Harvin, have the advantage over the Bears who are on a short week after getting mauled on Monday night.
On paper, the Vikings have a really good shot of beating Chicago. And on paper, they really need to do so if they want to remain a relevant playoff contender.